ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – We’re reaching the end of an era in Albuquerque, and lots of people may not even know it. Trees across the city are dying, creating a potentially dangerous and costly problem at parks.
There’s a big reason why people are drawn to city parks in Albuquerque. And everyone knows the value of trees, especially in a desert.
“In a city, it brings a lot of life,” said Ashley Toledo. “It’s just really beautiful.”
City Forester Joran Viers knows better than anyone how trees can enhance our quality of life.
“There’s something about being around tall, green, shady trees that makes us feel good,” Viers said.
But if you look beyond the changing leaves, you may notice something else is changing.
“I think we were literally like lying on our backs after playing hard, kind of like looking up at the trees and I noticed some of the dead wood,” said Chad Gruber, a nearby resident. “I haven’t thought about the fact that they have this finite life span.”
“I think it’s a reality that this is maybe like the prime of this park right now,” Gruber said.
The elms date back to the Clyde Tingley era and were planted in the late 1930s, 40s and 50s. Now in 2016 they are showing their age.
“We’ve already taken a few out that couldn’t wait,” Viers said. “I can kind of predict the likelihood of failure in the next 10 years but I can’t tell you ‘Tuesday at 10, this branch is coming down’.”
That creates a safety concern.
In the past, branches have fallen on cars, homes and people.
In 2003 a little girl was knocked out while getting some shade at the zoo. A few years later, a man was killed at Coronado Park when a 300 pound limb came crashing down on his head.
Storms can also do a lot of damage, with heavy trees toppling over onto cars or anything else in their path.
Surprisingly though the city forester says it isn’t just the dead limbs people have to worry about as much. It’s also the heavy, water-weighted, healthy limbs that can drop at any time. It’s a problem specifically for Siberian elms.
“So my concern with these older trees is what’s the slowest I can take them out without endangering anybody and still maintain a canopy?” Viers questioned.
His small city forestry crew is focusing on the worst of the worst on top of maintaining nearly 300 city parks.
Removing the old trees is crucial, Viers says, warning the “city faces potential damages in the millions if anyone is seriously injured or killed by falling trees.”
“We’re trying to get ahead of any issues that might be developing,” Viers said.
Roosevelt Park has the most aging elms with nearly 200 of them. Altura Park and Bataan Memorial each have 73.
Neighbors near Bataan worry the park won’t be the same without the old elms.
“My family uses this park all the time, this park is really a gathering spot,” Gruber said. “We’re not going to have a park that’s this lush and wooded for probably 50 years.”
Viers plans to tackle the problem in phases so parks aren’t left looking barren. If his city crew of 10 people can replace 52 trees a year, Viers is looking at a 16-plus year project. Realistically, if they can tackle 24 trees per year it’ll be a 35-year project.
If the city contracts some of the work out, it could cost roughly $2,000 to remove each tree and another $200 to plant a replacement. That’s more than $1.7 million for the problem elms.
Neighbors like Gruber want to figure out how they can help.
“It’s gonna take probably some neighborhood organization,” said Gruber.
Next month the process to remove the trees in Albuquerque’s city parks will begin. And as the old elms leave the spots where they’ve stood for decades, a younger, different type of elm will take their place.
Although their giant, shady stature will take years to really replace.
“The tree that we plant today will be a large tree for our grandchildren,” Viers said.
The City of Albuquerque will start removing elms from Altura, Alvarado, and Fox Memorial park next month.
With Bataan Memorial, city crews are required to do a lot more planning and communicating before removing trees. The forestry crew will communicate with the neighborhood, survivors association, and the state historic preservation office, since the park is a state-registered cultural property and has its own management plan.